Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Running | Berlin Marathon 2017 | Breaking 4 hours

It is famous for being the fastest marathon in the world, where the great and good come and aim to smash the barriers of world records. This year there was once again talk of if the elite men would get nearer to the seemingly impossible 2 hour mark. Could they run a sub-2 marathon?

While the elites were at press conferences and limbering up in hotels I too had just arrived in Berlin also looking for a fast marathon time. I'd run a massive marathon PB at the Kent Costal Marathon 3 weeks before Berlin but the course was undulating so I suspected there might be a chance of another PB. 4:10:41 - that was the number to beat.

In the back of my head was a nagging voice telling me getting a PB was great but what if I could cross the line of 4 hours? Just like the fastest in the world could I cross that magic threshold that for me took me into the seemingly impossible.

Long time readers of my blog will know that when I started running 6 years a go I couldn't run round the block. Never mind the block I couldn't even run to the end of the street. I remember the first time I ran a continuous 1km without stopping: I thought I'd made it. I ran my first marathon in Edinburgh in 2011 because I wanted to be one of those people. I wanted to be a marathoner. It was really tough but I also remember grinning ear to ear throughout because I was doing it: I was running a marathon. I finished that day in 5:47: 45 which I continue to be so proud of.

Now here I was in Berlin contemplating if I should say the words out loud. On race morning at Racebase (I was out with my Adidas Runners Crew including so much incredible hospitality laid on by AR Berlin like a hub near the start line called Racebase) as I left to go to the starting pens I finally admitted to one of the other Adidas Runners why my stomach was in knots: "I want to run a sub-4." Eeek. Now I'd said it out loud!

The marathon course in Berlin follows most of the major city sights and sees 45,000 runners tackle the distance. The course was great, really flat, interesting, incredible support from the crowds and really fun running in a cool city like Berlin. However that morning it was drizzling and my feet were soaking after 10 minutes. It's also been a really long time since I've run in a big race and I'd forgotten logistics like how long it takes to cross the start line (over half an hour!) or the fact the queues for the loos just don't seem worth it. I also really believe that plastic cups in a race is the worst thing ever. It's not better for the environment than bottles, it's so hard to rehydrate using them and I kept getting almost rugby tackled out the way as I attempted to enter and leave the water stations.

And here comes the big confession: as soon as I started running I knew I was having "one of those days". Sadly not the magic ones the other kind. The kind where everything hurts and it feels tough straight away and you need a couple of little cries to keep you going. The first 15km were sore but ok. Physio straight after the marathon diagnosed I have tendonitis in both my Tibialis Posterior - a muscle deep in the calf that runs from your inside ankle up your leg. So from the first step my ankles really hurt. But this was not my first marathon. I persevered. And then something shocking happened at 15km - I hit what I would describe as the wall. At 15km! What was going on? My earlier progress for the last 15km felt like it was slipping backwards as for the next 5km I slowed right down. I couldn't drag my pace up.

Then everything changed. I got to the half mararthon and the 4 hour pacer laid on by Adidas passed me. And I thought "I've got to hang on. I've got to." So I did. 5:41min/km is an ok pace for me to sustain at 5km but for that second half marathon it was a tough ask. I reasoned with myself that I'd finish quicker if I clung on to the pacer than if I gave up. I also made a deal with myself: running sub-4 would be amazing but more amazing would be to try and run a marathon without taking a walking break: something I'd never done before. As the km ticked by I made mental stages for myself: 30km (I was on track for a 30km PB), 33km (next time I'd take an energy gel), 37km (the cheer station organised by AR), 40km, done.

Running with the small group around our 4 hour pacer Annika was amazing. They were inspiring, encouraging, helped me laugh and even helped me translate the word all the supporters kept cheering: Jawohl! Bravo! When we hit 10km to go I begun to think: "Well I can't give up now, I've put in so much work to get here!" The cheer station at 37km was incredible. It's rare I run a big race with no support so to suddenly be hit by this amazing group of people cheering their lungs out for me because I was part of their Adidas Runners crew was really wonderful. And it was the nudge I needed. I was clinging on.

With 4km to go my knee starting tracking slightly off so every other step I felt a bambi-esque wobble. Cling on. I can do this. Passing 40km I'd developed a nervous watch twitch. Timing wise it was still on but it would be tight. I definitely couldn't slow down at all or I'd miss it.

And then with a km to go you round a corner and the Brandenburg Gate is there. It's beautiful and huge and you can see the stream of runners running through it on their way to the finish line. So I sped up. Through the gate, final 200m, final watch check, speed up, heel click on the finish line because I did it, stop my watch. 3:59:39. And then I cried my eyes out.

Standing just past the finish line Carola, one of the wonderful sub-4 crew, comes over to me and wraps my very sweaty body into a massive hug as I cry and cry and cry. She too has smashed her PB and the grins from our crew at the realisation we crossed the magic 4 hour line is the most phenomenal feeling.

Back at Racebase the party has started. Of the amazing and inspiring runners that I came out with, 20 of us came over from Adidas Runners London, there are more PBs than I can count, 2 of the girls have run sub 3:30 meaning they've qualified for Boston, the Speedster has smashed a new PB sneaking under 3:15, 3 of the lads have PBed between 2:58-3:01. But something more important than time chasing has happened: we've come together through this crazy, mad thing we do and formed a community. We're bonded by those 42.2km we faced. We're as excited about their race as our own. And because it's one of the World Marathon Majors, we are mostly excited to have 'done Berlin'. Been there. Done that. Got the medal.

I can't thank the AR Crew enough for not only giving me the opportunity to run Berlin but also the week in week out support and love I get from them at Friday morning sessions. The interval sessions I go to with AR have really changed my running and have also given me a great group of friends in London. Wonderful weekend. Wonderful crew. Wonderful to be able to say: I ran a sub-4 marathon. Gulp. Crew love.

Total time: 3:59:39🏃‍♀️

Finishing position:  2,771st female (out of 11,037)
Finishing position for my age-group: 471st 
Runners; 43,852
% of runners who finished: 89%

First half time: 1:59:30
Second half time: 2:00:09

Pros: World Marathon Major, city centre course, atmosphere, the crowds, warm up activities (expo, shakeout run etc) are all great, great medal, very flat
Cons: not enough toilets (CLASSIC!), poor water stations, not many gels on course (and you can't buy the gels on course in the UK so can't practice with them beforehand)
Likelihood of doing the Berlin Marathon again: 5% - not because I didn't enjoy it just feels like a 'Been there, done that' kind of race.
But likelihood of running with Adidas Runners again: 100%++++ 

To find out more about how to register for 2018's race go to:

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Running | Kent Coastal Marathon 2017

In 2011 I did something that at the time seemed impossible: I completed the Edinburgh marathon. When I signed up for that race I couldn't run round the block so to reach the finish line was the most incredible experience. 5 hours 47 minutes and 45 seconds of pain and grit and determination. 

Since that marathon, I have become a runner. I have discovered a natural passion and love of being outside and being free through running. But I have never run a marathon since that 2011 day. And so 13 days in to my brand new job at the King's Head Theatre I found myself having encouraged my colleagues that 'I truly believe anyone has the ability to complete a marathon'. Because, well I do! 

Marathons are really tough. Completing one is inspiring. But genuinely, with training, determination and effective goal setting I believe anyone has the ability to run a marathon.

And so this weekend I found myself lining up at the start line of the Kent Coastal Marathon, organised by the incredibly friendly Thanet Roadrunners AC alongside 4 of my colleagues and 2 of our partners.  

The course of the Kent Coastal Marathon is described as undulating. Which is always a worrying statement. 270m of ascent over 26.2 miles doesn't sound like much but as the miles click on the up and downs start to really hurt. 

The first half marathon was wonderful. It was the perfect weather and the majority of the route hugs the beautiful coast of Kent taking you from Margate, through Broadstairs and down to Ramsgate before returning back to Margate. Then the most awful moment occured at the half way point. Over 3/5ths of the competitors stopped running. Because the half marathon starts at the same time on the same course as the marathon you have to watch as a huge proportion of the field peels off for the finish while you prepare for the second half of the race. Talk about mind over matter. 

I was running with one of my colleagues James who is a particularly speedy half marathon runner but was running his first marathon in Kent after a really tough couple of weeks at work. When I first started running back in 2011 I was pretty embarrassed about how tough I found things and therefore hated running with other people but as I've become more and more confident in myself as a runner I've found that running companions can bring real joy to a race. Company, distraction and encouragement on hand throughout the journey. 

As we passed the halfway stage we both went a little quiet. It had just started to hurt and the fact we still had just over 13 miles to complete felt a little, well, gulp. From Margate you run along the busy seafront past beautiful beaches and beach huts to the turn point at Birchington. It was a beautiful sunny day at the weekend and the gorgeous weather, combined with the fact that my encouragement saw the wonderful Louisa, Oscar, Oli and James all taking part in their first marathon was pretty overwhelming. Running past my fantastic colleagues Bex and Alan cheering themselves hoarse on the sidelines was just so encouraging. It hurt so much at times but the company and the support of being with such a wonderful group helped spur me on. 

I had A, B and C goal set before starting the race, as I've now started doing for all races. Rather than saying to yourself 'I want to get X time' you set three goals based on your perfect race, ranging down to something you'll be really happy with. If it's your first marathon therefore your C goal might be: make it to the start line, B goal: finish no matter what the time and A goal might be finish in under 6 hours.

My A race of the year was Ironman so everything is a bit of a bonus now and my B race will come in 3 weeks time when I lace up for the Berlin Marathon so this was a bit of a check in point to see how running 'just a marathon' would feel. 
So my goals were:
C Goal: PB! Finish in under the time I completed the marathon segment in Ironman (4:42:22) 

B Goal: Sub 4:30
A Goal: Sub 4:15

As we approached a mile to go my watch ticked over to 4 hours. I turned to James: "What time had you been hoping for today? Sub-4:30?" 
"That would have been incredible. Anything though. Sub-5 would be nice."
"We've only just hit 4 hours - we're going to do under 4:15!"

At this point I think James almost fell over. Running up to the finishing straight a little voice in the back of my head had started saying 'Come on, you can beat your Edinburgh marathon PB by over 90 minutes. Come on.'

The final sweep down to the finish line hurt. But as the line approached and I did my trademark heel click the rush of jubilation was overwhelming. 4:10:41. Heck yes. 

Cheering in all my colleagues one by one after finishing just made the day. The heroes the lot of them. 5 new members of the marathon completers club. A new PB for me. 

What a day!

Total time: 4:10:41🏃‍♀️

Finishing position:  12th female

Pros: beautiful views, awesome medal, only £30, free race photos, friendly race, great marshals
Cons: poor finishing t-shirt, ran out of drinks by the end, could have been more food for finishers, hard mentally when the half marathon runners peel off
Likelihood of doing the Kent Costal Marathon again: 75%